What It's About

This book looks at the role of women's dance as spiritual expression both from a historical view and also from a modern-day view.

The book opens with a "herstory" of the link between dance and females (goddess, priestess, normal woman) in a sacred context, and explores how centuries of change and the rise of patriarchy led to the loss of knowledge regarding women's spiritual heritage. I was intrigued to see how Stewart looked behind folk dances and modern-day games such as Ring Around the Rosy for clues to ancient sacred dance traditions. Stewart also revealed some fascinating insights into how the meanings of certain words such as "virgin" have significantly changed over the centuries.

The second half of the book looks at sacred dance today, discussing modern practices, the historic roots they come from, and suggestions for people who would like to sample spiritual dance for themselves.

The book closes with reference material: a list of resources, footnotes, bibliography, and index.

Throughout Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance, Stewart examines many cultures worldwide, including the Middle East and North Africa. She covers both ancient legacies and rituals still performed today - the Guedra of the Tuareg Blue People, the zar, and ancient Egyptian dances to Hathor. In the WomanDance section, Stewart discusses both the historical origins of belly dance as birth ritual and how women can use the movements to create our own rites for today.

Books: Middle Eastern Culture

Its Good Points

One wonderful aspect of this book was that it was lavishly illustrated with photographs (many of them in color) and drawings, making the book a visual feast. Some of the illustrations depicted ancient statues and drawings, while others showed modern-day spiritual dance leaders.

The historical research was very credible, and presented in a way that clearly demonstrated that the author had looked behind the surface. I found Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance to be much stronger in its study of ancient dance forms than Serpent of the Nile.

Stewart avoids linking the benefits of spiritual dance to any particular belief system. I've seen other writers focus on the "goddess" aspects of sacred dance, causing some Christians to e-mail me to ask whether belly dancing might be incompatible with their belief systems. Stewart, in contrast, acknowledges the historical origins of sacred dance in pre-Christian cultures, but emphasizes that dancers today of all faiths can explore its benefits.

Throughout the book, after discussing an aspect of a historical dance form, Stewart includes a section titled, "Now Let Us Dance" which offers recommendations on how modern-day women can explore the benefits of sacred dance. This approach brings the historical research to life by involving the readers in thoughts of how to apply dance to their spiritual lives today.

The 7-page bibliography offers pointers to a large number of additional sources for readers who find that they're hungry for more information. I'm not familiar with all the items cited in the list, but I have read some of them, and the ones that I'm familiar with are definitely credible researchers.

The "Resources" section offers a guide to where a reader could look for instructors, workshops, and other assistance in further pursuing sacred dance today. For anyone inspired by the "Now Let Us Dance" sections, these resources offer a great opportunity to connect with others who share an interest using exploring dance as part of their spiritual development.

Books: Middle Eastern Culture

On The Negative Side....

I found the index to be a little weak. There were a number of times when I wanted to refer back to something I had seen in the book (example, Guedra), but couldn't find index listings for them.

Some topics received only cursory treatment, topics I wished would have been explored in more depth. Admittedly, a researcher always needs to pick and choose from a large volume of information and often can't include everything, but there were a number of times that I was hungry to know more about a particular area.

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

In Conclusion

This book can speak to women on many levels. For those who would like to integrate their spiritual lives with their love for dance, it offers both validation and suggestions for how to start. For those who want to explore the pre-patriarchal history of women, this book offers extensive illustrations and solid research that I haven't seen in any of the other books of this sort.

Although written with everyday vocabulary and sentence structures, the historical section isn't easy to read because it is filled with so many facts. At times, I found I could only read 5-6 pages at a time before my brain became full of information and I needed to take a break! But I consider this to be a good thing. The book is packed with information, and I know I'll be referring back to it many times.

Books: Middle Eastern Culture